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NFL star, WPIAL mat champ Bill Fralic dead at 56

Bill Fralic

Bill Fralic, offensive lineman for University of Pittsburgh and for two NFL teams who was a standout wrestler in high school, passed away in his suburban Atlanta home after a battle with cancer. He was 56.

Some readers may be aware of Fralic's involvement in the WWE, most notably as a participant in a Battle Royale at WrestleMania 2 in 1986. However, William P. Fralic, Jr. wrestled for real -- as well as played football -- at Penn Hills High School in suburban Pittsburgh. The then 6'5" 260-pound Fralic was a WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) heavyweight champ who also wrestled at the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) state championships.

Tom Elling, noted historian of all things wrestling in the state of Pennsylvania, shared his recollections of Fralic at the state championships in 1980 as an in-person witness.

"(Fralic) was primarily a football player, be he was also a tremendous talent on the mat taking a third place in the 1980 PIAA Championships at the 'Unlimited' weight class," Elling told InterMat. "After dropping an overtime bout to Jeff Green of Pottstown, Fralic came back to take third with a 4-1 decision over future Pitt football teammate Dennis Atiyeh. The weight class was won by Steve Sefter of Cedar Cliff, who would go on to play football for Penn State. Also in the weight class was future Pitt teammate Troy Benson of Altoona. Benson played in the pros for the New York Jets."

Fralic concluded his prep wrestling career at Penn Hills with a 98-7 overall record, and being named Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year in 1981. A decade later, Fralic was welcomed into the Penn Hills High School Athletic Hall of Fame ... and honored with the naming of the school's athletic center in his honor.

Fralic continued his academic and athletic career close to home, at the University of Pittsburgh, but concentrated on football. He was a three-time All-American for Pitt. Fralic became the first offensive lineman to twice finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting, placing sixth in 1984 and eighth in 1983, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He owns the distinction of being the only lineman to be a finalist for the Lombardi Award as a junior in 1983. The following year, Fralic's number was retired at his last home game for the Panthers in 1984.

Fralic was a second-round pick in the NFL draft, signing with the Atlanta Falcons. He later continued his career with the Detroit Lions. In his nine seasons in the NFL, Fralic was a four time Pro Bowl nominee, and earned a place on the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s.

Fralic has been installed in a number of athletic Halls of Fame. In addition to being installed at the Penn Hills High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991, Fralic was welcomed into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998, and a member of the inaugural class of the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2007. He was also a member of the first-ever Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class that was enshrined this past September, joining other past Panther sports luminaries such as Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka, and Dan Marino.

Funeral services have yet to be made public.

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